Review: The Wizard of Oz

By John Nathan, March 4, 2011
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Andrew Lloyd Webber has done it again - that is, as with his previous blockbuster, Love Never Dies, he has produced a show that first fills you with awe and then washes it down with an emotional sedative. While the eyes boggle, the mind drifts.

That said, this Wizard of Oz is a triumph of ambition, if the ambition is to create spectacle. Jeremy Sams's technically brilliant production moves with seamless ease from a sepia Kansas to a colour-saturated Oz via a superbly staged - well, filmed - tornado scene.

It is here that Hannah Waddingham's nasty Mrs Gulch turns into the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West, her bike into a broom, the friendly local mechanicals into Scarecrow without a brain (Paul Keating), Tin Man without a heart (Edward Baker-Duly) and Lion sans his courage (David Ganly). And it is also here that the impression builds to certainty that there is something essential missing from this show.

Danielle Hope - winner of the BBC casting show, Over the Rainbow, which so generously gave this £5 million pound production many more millions of pounds worth of free publicity - delivers a sweet-voiced Dorothy. No one in their right mind would compare her to Judy Garland, but just a smidgeon of Garland's vulnerability and yearning would have gone down a treat with the pitch-perfect professionalism with which Hope delivers one of the show's stand-out songs, Over the Rainbow. An under-employed Michael Crawford as a Kansas traveling showman and the eponymous Wizard musters what charm he can during his half hour or so of stage time.

But then this is an evening much more about Robert Jones's set designs rather than the show's performances or even the superb score by Harold Arlen (music) and E Y Harburg (lyrics). On that front the reunion of Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice has produced some good extra songs that fit snugly into the plot - wittily so with the sardonic Red Shoes Blues sung by Waddingham's Witch, the only character with the charisma to upstage Dorothy's gorgeous West Highland terrier Toto, itself the only performer for whom we feel any real sympathy.

But then I should admit to a long-held prejudice about this show's moral lesson. Any parent who endorses the message that we should look no further than our own back yard for our heart's desire should have their children taken away.

    Last updated: 11:04am, March 4 2011